There was no career path for what Ray ended up doing. He had never heard the term personal trainer. He improvised. He wasn't a sports fan, wasn't even a jock. His brother, Ed, was a football player, good enough to go to Arizona on a scholarship, but Ray had stayed away from sports as a kid. He had been overweight. Maybe he had been intimidated by his brother's accomplishments. He still isn't sure what the reason was.
The change came—fittingly, because Ray would wind up with all these movie people—when he saw a film called The Jericho Mile, about a prison inmate who trains in hopes of becoming an Olympic-caliber runner. Ray was inspired to start running. The running made him lose weight, and losing weight made him look at other aspects of physical fitness. He became a physical-fitness junkie, reading everything he could find on the subject, working out like a madman. "I remember I was hoping to become a fireman," says Ray, who took courses in fire prevention while working at Gold's Gym. "That was because firemen had so much time off. I'd be able to work out more."
The fitness business pushed the fireman business out of the way. Maybe, crazy as it sounded, Ray could work out and be paid at the same time. He started booking clients as early as six in the morning and worked all day and into the night. There were more than enough clients, all with different goals and different ideas about what a personal trainer should do. Some of the people wanted no more than for Ray to help them take off a few pounds before a party—or simply to appear at the party to be introduced ("This is Ray, my personal trainer"). Some wanted to become Tarzan.
Ray caught a break when one of the entertainment lawyers said that Sean Penn needed to add 30 pounds for his role in the film At Close Range. Could Ray help with something like that? Before long Ray was on location in Tennessee. "We worked out in Los Angeles, and Sean asked me to come along to Tennessee," Ray says. "I remember saying that I'd need more money to do something like that. I talked with the producer, and he asked how much I needed. I summoned up all my courage and said, 'Fifteen hundred dollars a week.' The producer said, 'Done.' 'Plus expenses,' I said. 'Done.' 'And a car?' 'Done.'
"That's the way it's been with Sean. The movie company pays. He says, Ask whatever you want. They have to pay you to get me.' " Ray has worked with Penn on a string of movies, keeping him fit as he built up or pared down his body, depending on the demands of each role. Big for that first movie, slender and-mean for Penn's most recent release, Dead Man Walking. Somewhere in between for Colors and Casualties of War. Each job has been different, almost like working with a new person as Penn's latest film character has slipped into his everyday personality. The intensity of the movie always carries over into the workouts.
"For Dead Man Walking, Sean got a real tattoo," Ray says. "A big one on the arm. I started to say, 'But when the movie's over....' But I didn't. He's just intense. I met him one day for a workout at a downtown L.A. gym before the filming. This was a public gym. He ran barefoot on the treadmill wearing rolled-up jeans, a T-shirt and a rag around his head. Everyone was looking. He was just into it. He looked mean."
The work with Penn led to the work with Madonna. Ray worked out with Madonna before and during her marriage to the actor. He helped her find her own trainer. In late 1989, no longer married to Penn, she was looking to change trainers, and she called Ray. She asked if he could take the job: six days a week, three hours a day. Year-round. He said he would call Penn. According to Ray, Penn had no objection.
The new job opened the world to Ray. He has been everywhere with Madonna. He has found that the best coffee is in Turkey, the worst in Germany. He has done push-ups with a dancer on his back on a stage in Tokyo after being called down in the middle of a concert by Madonna. He has breathed the pollution in Buenos Aires during the filming of Evita. He has escaped the paparazzi for a run through Rome with Madonna. He has walked to a gym with Dennis Rodman in tow. The National Enquirer pictures that show Madonna in a blur, on the move, usually show Ray at her side. He often is referred to as "a burly bodyguard." Well, maybe he is—but not in the traditional sense.
Madonna, take away the hype and the mortar-shell brassiere and the patent-leather motorcycle cap, has turned out to be the perfect client, but not the way Johnny Carson's lawyer was. She is after fitness, not cosmetics. She follows a workout schedule that would make a middle linebacker think about another career. The workout is as important as any other part of her day. No matter where she is. No matter what she is doing.
Even as she approached the Oct. 14 birth of her daughter, Lourdes Maria, Madonna still was doing an hour of workouts six days a week. She cut down to three days a week in the last month. She promises to return to her old schedule soon.